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December 15, 2022

Stunning Portraits of Celebrities Taken By Photographer Lusha Nelson, the “Forgotten Modernist”

Lusha Nelson’s career was brief but prolific. In the 1930s, he shot portraits for Vanity Fair, fashion spreads for Vogue, as well as still lifes, street scenes, and glossy ads with equal aplomb.


Though virtually unknown, Nelson quickly became a favorite of Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz for his bold, sharp-edged style and authentic approach. Steichen, then the chief photographer of Condé Nast Publications, took Nelson under his wing, and the young artist was soon shooting striking portraits of Hollywood starlets and elite athletes.

After a quick rise from teenaged Latvian immigrant to successful modernist photographer, Nelson died of Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 30 in May of 1938. Most of his archives, including thousands of images of Katharine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, and Fay Wray were forgotten and hidden away in private homes after his death. It wasn’t until a 2015 acquisition of over 4,000 of his prints, negatives, and archival materials by the Philbrook Museum of Art that the breadth of his work was exhumed.

Katherine Hepburn, 1933.

Fay Wray, 1934.

Helen Wills Moody, 1934.

Leone Sousa, 1934.

Marya Mannes, 1934.

Fanny Brice and Sally Rand, 1934.

Kykunkor Dancers, 1934.

Peggy Taylor, 1934.

Anna Sten, 1934-1935.

Margot Grahame, 1935.

Moss Hart and Cole Porter, 1935.

Gary Cooper, 1935.

Richard Pitchford (Cardini the Magician), 1935.

Tallulah Bankhead, 1935.

Hope Williams and Sir Noël Coward in 'The Scoundrel', 1935.

Constance Cummings, 1935.

Gypsy Rose Lee, 1936.

Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, 1935.

Beatrice Lillie, 1935.

Igor Sikorsky and the Pan-American Clipper, 1935.

Joe Louis, 1935.

Jesse Owens, 1935.

Lou Gehrig, 1935.

Jean Arthur, 1935.

Yehudi, Yaltah and Hephzibah Menuhin, 1935.

Helen Bennett, 1935–1937.

Peter Lorre, 1936.

Roy E. Larsen, 1936-1937.

Marian Anderson, 1937.

Margaret Anglin, 1937.

(via Hyper Allergic, The Cut, Vanity Fair)




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